Shades of the Past

By Julia Commander, Jessica Betz Abel, and Anna O’Neill

We’ve shared a few insights into the monumental limestone we’ve been treating at our Conservation Lab Annex (CLA). You may have noticed a consistent color scheme: tan. The surfaces of the doorways are intricately carved and decorated with faience inlay, although we mainly see a variety of neutral tones.

Doorway 1 in the lab

To get a sense of how these architectural elements would have looked when they were made in Memphis, Egypt around 1213–1203 BCE, it helps to understand the materials and their state of deterioration. Luckily, the Penn Museum Archives has extensive records from the 1920’s Memphis excavations, which provides some further clues about these objects.

Searching through archival materials, we found detailed notes about each object as it was excavated, as well as extensive watercolor illustrations. We can see brilliant colors in the drawings and notes referencing traces of paint and inlay material.

Archival illustrations of Merenptah columns
Archival illustrations of Merenptah columns

We even see that the doorways are illustrated with brilliant blue and teal colors.

Archival illustrations of Merenptah palace doorways
Archival illustrations of Merenptah palace doorways

Some of the illustrations appear to extrapolate data from small traces of material. Do these colorful illustrations line up with what we’re seeing now in the material itself?

To explore a little further, we brought the Crimescope out to CLA to investigate using multispectral imaging. This technique has been discussed on the blog before, and we were particularly interested in infrared (IR) imaging of the faience inlay. While there are different types of faience material, some types related to Egyptian blue pigment produce the same luminescent response induced by visible light.

Searching for IR luminescence pointed us to a tiny area of inlay in the upper corner lintel fragment. The tip of one stripe glowed brightly, which corresponds to a pale green color that’s visible in normal lighting.

Visible light (VIS)
Visible-induced infrared luminescence (VIL)
Detail with VIS/VIL overlay

This result suggests that we’re seeing a deteriorated state of formerly bright blue/green/teal faience. While we did not see every trace of the degraded inlay light up in infrared imaging, this small hint corroborates what we’re seeing in the archival illustrations.

We plan to continue using multispectral imaging to explore decorated surfaces when we’re back at CLA. Stay tuned!

Multispectral imaging of Wilfred/a’s cartonnage

E12328B_4viewsWhat you see above are 4 different images of our mummy Wilfred/a’s cartonnage. Each image represents a different way of looking at the cartonnage, and assists us in better understanding this object. But what are we seeing in these images, and how did we produce them? (If you have been following this blog, or our museum blog, these types of images may be familiar to you, since we have used these techniques to look at other objects, including a painted wooden shabti box. But every object is different, and in this case, I’ve learned something new that I’ve never seen before, so read on to learn more!)

Let’s start with the image in the upper left – this is easy.

E12328B_visible01_compressed

Visible image. Captured with a Nikon D5200, modified by replacing the hot mirror filter with a glass custom full spectrum filter, with a B+W UV-IR-cut filter & incandescent photo light source.

This is a photograph taken in normal (visible) light with a digital camera. This image represents what you see when you look at the object here in the Artifact Lab. We see that the surface of the cartonnage has a design painted in many different colors, and that there are some residues on the painted surface in areas. There is a lot that we can learn about this object just by looking at it in visible light, but what we cannot do is confidently identify the pigments used. So in this case, multispectral imaging comes in very handy. Let’s take a look at the next image.

E12328B_IR01_compressed

Visible induced IR luminescence image. Captured with Nikon D5200 modified full spectrum camera, #87C filter, Crimescope 600nm light source.

This is an image of the exact same view of the object, but it was captured using our modified digital camera with a #87C IR filter, using our SPEX Mimi Crimescope with the 600nm filter as a light source. With this technique, we can clearly identify that Egyptian blue was used in the areas that appear bright white, because these areas are showing visible-induced IR luminescence (in other words, they emit infrared light when excited with visible light). No other pigment used by the ancient Egyptians has this property, so we can say with certainty that these areas are painted with Egyptian blue. To better visualize these areas (since the rest of the image is nearly black) we can use the image captured in visible light and the above image to create a false color image.

False color image of the cartonnage created in Photoshop, where the areas painted with Egyptian blue appear red.

False color image of the cartonnage created in Photoshop, where the areas painted with Egyptian blue appear red.

The false color image shows us the luminescent (Egyptian blue) areas in red. If you look closely, you’ll be able to see that the red areas are slightly shifted, due to the fact that we probably bumped the camera in between shots. But you get the idea.

Finally, I wanted to see what we could learn about the cartonnage by looking at it under other wavelengths of light with the Crimescope. I was expecting that we’d probably be able to better visualize the old adhesive used to join the cartonnage fragments in the past, and maybe better understand the residues on the surface. But when we looked at it with the 300-400nm filter (with a peak emission of 365nm), this is what we saw:

UV visible fluorescence image, captured with a Nikon D5200 modified full spectrum camera with B+W UV-IR-cut filter, using the Mini Crimescope 300-400nm filter.

UV visible fluorescence image. Captured with a Nikon D5200 modified full spectrum camera with B+W UV-IR-cut filter, using the Mini Crimescope 300-400nm filter.

In this image, the areas that stand out the most are the areas fluorescing a bright orange-pink color, which appear pink in visible light. I had never seen this before and wasn’t exactly sure what this meant, but after looking into it a bit, I believe that this fluorescence indicates that the pink areas were painted with madder, a dyestuff obtained from the roots of the madder plant. Madder has been identified as being used in ancient Egypt to create pink pigments for painting, and is known for having a characteristic pinkish-orange UV fluorescence, which is how I would characterize what we’re seeing in the above image. There are other ways we could try to confirm this, but this was an exciting, and unexpected observation!

* Special thanks to conservation intern Yan Ling and Conservator Tessa de Alarcon for their help with capturing and processing these images.

Glowing in the dark: multispectral imaging and Egyptian blue

There is something I’ve mentioned before on this blog, but never actually shown, and that is the ability to “see” Egyptian blue on objects using multispectral imaging. On many objects Egyptian blue is very well-preserved, so there is no need for special examination techniques in order to spot it. But there are cases in which being able to accurately identify this pigment is important. Sometimes Egyptian blue deteriorates either by changing color (to green or black) or by becoming lost altogether, making it difficult to know which areas may have originally been blue, or if blue was used at all.

And then there are objects like this one:

Front view of the shabti box in normal lighting conditions

Front view of the shabti box in normal lighting conditions

You’ve seen it before, it’s our painted wooden shabti box. I have been working on the treatment of this box for awhile now, mostly to stabilize the flaking paint and varnish. And this thick, orange-yellow varnish, which we believe is original, and is pistacia resin, makes it difficult to see the painted surface, both the details and the colors. While I could see that there is some green and possibly blue paint on this box, between deterioration of the paint and/or pigment, and the thick application of pistacia resin, I couldn’t say for sure which areas may have originally been painted blue…until now…

Taking advantage of the fact that Egyptian blue has luminescent properties when illuminated with visible light and captured in infrared, we can detect where Egyptian blue was applied. And wow, look at these results:

Visible-induced IR luminescence image of the shabti box. Light source: SPEX Mini Crimescope with 600nm band-pass filter. Captured with a Nikon D5200 modified camera with an IR 87C filter.

Visible-induced IR luminescence image of the shabti box. Light source: SPEX Mini Crimescope with 600nm band pass filter. Captured with a Nikon D5200 modified camera with an IR 87C filter.

This is the same surface of the shabti box seen in the first photo, but zoomed in a bit, and taken under different lighting conditions and captured with a different camera. The areas that appear white are where Egyptian blue was applied. Because everything else pretty much disappears on the box in this image, to better visualize where the Egyptian blue is in relation to other details, we created a false-color image in Photoshop:

False color image of the shabti box. The areas painted with Egyptian blue appear red.

False color image of the shabti box. The areas painted with Egyptian blue appear red.

In this false color image, the areas that appear red are where the Egyptian blue was applied. It’s not perfect (you can see that the bands in the hair of the figure on the right don’t really show up) but we could play around with the photographs a bit to improve this.

We did this imaging on all surfaces of the box, and on the box lids. Here is a regular photo, a visible-induced IR luminescence photo, and a false color image of one of the box lids, also showing lots of Egyptian blue:

Shabti box lid, normal light

Shabti box lid, normal light

Visible-induced IR luminescence photograph

Visible-induced IR luminescence photograph (areas in white = Egyptian blue)

False color image (areas in red = Egyptian blue)

False color image (areas in red = Egyptian blue)

You can use any regular/visible light source to produce the luminescence, but in this case, we used our fancy-schmancy new Mini Crimescope, which was developed for forensic work, but is useful to us because it allows us to examine objects under specific wavelengths of UV and visible light. We found that using a peak emission 600nm light source worked best for the excitation of the Egyptian blue.

In order to “see” the luminescence, we have to capture images using a modified digital camera, with an 87C IR filter.

In summary, we’re having lots of fun with our new equipment, and finding that these Egyptian objects are perfect subjects for learning how to use the Crimescope and the modified camera, because they produce such great, dramatic images.